Nolan reached the group of travellers with the panicking horse long before I did, and was already trying to help them calm the beast. I could tell just from the way he was moving his hands that he was speaking to the horse in the wind in an effort to soothe it, but the big white draft was having none of it. A draft horse, I though unhappily. Why did it have to be a draft horse? The heavy wagon-pulling drafts were hard to spook, but were so much heavier than horses like Faith that they were more dangerous when they did freak out. This would be tricky.
The moment Faith got near the panicking draft, she started dancing on the spot, reluctant to go too close but also too unwilling to disobey me to run away. She nickered lowly, letting me know that there was danger, and I patted her neck comfortingly. “It’s all right, girl,” I said calmly, but inside I was simmering with frustration. If that horse bolted and struck out at Faith, there would be serious trouble. No one hurts my horse and gets away with it.
Not wanting to upset Faith any more, I dismounted and left her standing on the sidelines while I approached the crowd on foot. There were four travellers with the horse: two brawny men, a tough-looking woman, and a younger girl watching the rearing horse with round eyes of concern. One of the men was yelling at Nolan to leave and I wished that he’d listen. If they didn’t want our help, why should we try?
But Nolan kept approaching the horse and none of the travellers was trying to stop him. I pushed between the two women and came right up behind Nolan, looking over his shoulder to see what he was doing. He was moving his hands in small circles, his fingertips moving the air and carrying his gentle whispers towards the horse’s ears. To my surprise, whatever he was saying seemed to be working–the horse had stopped rearing and was only tossing his head now, getting calmer by the second.
“Grab him,” Nolan muttered to me, keeping his hands moving all the while. One of the men shouted at me to stay away, that he didn’t want us to touch his horse, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. Instead, I carefully reached out and gripped the horse’s halter tightly, stroking his neck to soothe him further. Nolan came over and patted the horse’s nose, giving me a small, reassuring smile.
I was about to admit grudgingly that it was a good thing we’d come to help when the man who had been yelling at us suddenly shoved Nolan to the side of the road and pulled the halter aggressively from my hand. I stood in stunned silence while Nolan, who had been so startled that he’d lost his footing, picked himself up off the ground with his mouth hanging open. The other man, fast as lightning, pushed Nolan down again before he could even catch his breath.
The sight of the men shoving Nolan around awakened a fierce anger in my chest. I half drew my sword and snarled at the nearest man, the one who’d taken the halter from me. “We helped you with your horse, so leave us alone,” I said between gritted teeth.
“We didn’t need your help,” snapped the man, “and we especially didn’t need it from his kind.” He pointed at Nolan and I saw the young girl make a fearful gesture–like she was warding off evil. My temper quickened.
“Stay away from us, heathens,” sneered the older woman as she took hold of the horse and began leading it down the road, the girl following on her heels. I pulled my sword the rest of the way from its sheath as they passed, and noticed smugly that even though they didn’t lose their looks of disgust, they did walk a little faster. I glared at them until they’d gone and then shifted my attention to the men.
They were watching Nolan with bared teeth as he sat on the grass and looked warily up at them. “Get moving,” I ordered the men, but they stayed put.
“We didn’t need any help,” said one with cold sparks flaring in his eyes. “You have no business offering help to people like us in these parts.”
“What kind of gratitude is that?” I grumbled, stepping towards Nolan so that I could help him up. The moment I moved, however, the man with the sparks in his eyes hit me hard and fast in the face.
I reeled back, taken by surprise, and pressed my hand against my throbbing jaw while shock and rage flowed through me. I tightened my grip on my sword and raised it as if to start a fight, but then Nolan was on his feet and was pulling on my arm. “Don’t fight,” he told me–he begged me. “Don’t get hurt, please.” He tugged on my arm until the two men turned away and spat on the ground before following after the women. When they were gone, I turned my anger on Nolan.
“Stand up for yourself!” I scolded him, shoving my sword in its sheath and rubbing my jaw. “Why do you always make it my job, to make sure you aren’t hurt? Why can’t you defend yourself?”
“I didn’t want to fight,” Nolan said calmly. “I wanted to help them, and we did.”
“And we were better off just walking away.” I stormed towards Faith and climbed up into the saddle. “I told you we should walk away.”
“And I told you we should help.” Nolan brushed grass off his pants as casually as if he’d just been napping. His passiveness annoyed me sometimes. Along with his eagerness to help everyone in trouble.
“Next time I say we shouldn’t help someone, we’re not going to help them,” I declared as if my word was law. “It’ll only get us into trouble.”
“You get us into trouble,” Nolan said. “You shouldn’t have threatened them. They wouldn’t have hit you.”
I clenched my teeth. “They hit me because I was trying to protect you. And you didn’t let me hit them back, so now they think I’m just as weak and pathetic as you are.”
There was silence. Oh, crap. I should have felt guilty for what I said, but it was very hard when I was still burning with anger towards the ungrateful men.
“There are thorns in your heart, Alex,” Nolan finally said, his voice hard. “Let’s go, then. I wasted your time.” He started walking towards the path we were supposed to take and I followed along behind with dread. It was going to be a very long trip.
Not to much to say for this one. It would’ve been nicer to write it if I was actually angry and needed to get it out, but as it is, I’m pretty tired. Ah well.
Have you ever said something to a friend that you deeply regretted afterwards?
May you be free of thorns in your heart and quick to help those in need.